For the benefit of solvers new to the rigours of the Advanced Cryptic, Dr Watson provides a monthly review of the Observer's Azed competition puzzle. Dr Watson is a regular Azed competitor. Please post any comments on this review to the Crossword Centre’s message board.
Last year Azed offered a ‘Carte Blanche’ puzzle, in which the clues (given in the correct order but without the solution lengths) must be fitted into a barless grid. In this month’s puzzle the clues are given in alphabetical order of their solutions and must be fitted, jigsaw-style, into a barred grid. This style of puzzle will be familiar solvers of Arauacaria’s ‘Alphabetical Jigsaws’, and some of his jumbo specials in which the solutions combine to provide a message around the perimeter. Unlike Araucaria, Azed does not offer any sort of theme in this puzzle, just the extra job of fitting the solutions together. The grid is designed so as to make this a genuine challenge: there are six words each of four to nine letters, and nothing longer – normally it’s the long lights that are the key to a jigsaw puzzle. And, as it turns out, the alphabetical distribution of the solutions is rather skewed, six starting with A and only one with the letters U to Z.
For the record, Dr Watson solved 12 clues before even starting to try and construct the grid, and a further six before committing any solutions to paper. There’s little by way of advice to give: solve as many clues as possible up front, and use a pencil that’s easy to erase. Watson’s final grid was rather a battlefield of pencil, eraser, ink and Tippex.
With a few exceptions, noted below, the clues were slightly easier than you’d usually expect from Azed – and , arguably, rather less varied. Watson counted sixteen anagram-based clues, eight of them full or compound anagrams, and eight partial anagrams, which is a very high proportion
In the notes below, clues are numbered as they are in the puzzle. The position of the solution in the grid is given in brackets, e.g. (1,6,a) indicates the across light starting in row 1, column 6.
Notes to the clues:
3: Producer of plumper pineapple I’ll tuck into. ANANIAS (I in ananas) (2,1,a). A plumper being a whopper, and Ananias the biblical model of mendacity who dropped dead on being found out, or rather ‘gave up the ghost’.
8: Old sack, tube gone half rotten? BOUGET (anag. of tube go(ne)) (9,7,a). Chambers doesn’t indicate which meaning of ‘budget’ Spenser intended by this word, so presumably any is acceptable for clueing purposes. Then again, it’s hard to imagine Edmund (or his Faerie Queene) running up financial statements on a 16th century spreadsheet.
10: Isle separated from border town – one’s awfu’ scrunty. CARL (Carl(isle)) (1,12,d). A little geographical knowledge comes in handy here, and the second half of the clue alludes to the border in question.
12. Banting? Jock’s block holding position back. DIETIST (site rev. in dit) (5,6,a). It takes a tremendous familiarity with Chambers to come up with this clue. Banting is listed under the entry for his diet.
14: The old sparkle relights afresh – it’s not hard. GLISTER (anag. less h) (11,6,a). The lovely wording makes this otherwise straightforward clue Watson’s favourite of the puzzle.
23: Nothing Milton O’s successor does for threats to vine? OIDIA (O + Idi A(min)) (1,1,a). One of two very difficult clues. Solvers chasing Miltonic vocabulary and the letter P will have been barking up quite the wrong tree. Those who remember that Milton Obote’s first term as president of Uganda ended in a coup led by Idi Amin in the early 1970s, are in with a chance. Azed may have forgotten that Obote returned to power in the 1980s, and has another successor, current president Museveni.
26: Crush (quart about): can it. QUASH (qu a sh!) (8,9,d). Azed finds an new way of dealing with ‘sh’ that helps provide a very neat clue.
29: Garment: I’ll go for ruche in it? SHIRT (shir for I in it) (12,8,a). A second clue that’s much harder than the rest. Dr Watson didn’t get this at all, and, after dismissing the removal of ‘I’ll’ from ‘frill’ and similar improbabilities, had to concede defeat and take a guess between SHIRT or SHORT. In fact the key to explaining it lies in Chambers, two entries above the one for ‘shirt’, at ‘shirr’ or ‘shir’ (a type of ruche). In retrospect the slightly inelegant wording also hints at the significance of ‘it’ – surely Azed would have used ‘in this garment’ if he could? It’s interesting to speculate whether he considered an ‘& lit.’ clue without ‘garment’, but changed his mind and tacked on the definition at the last minute. (With thanks to Luciano for the explanation).
36. In centre of quad elm distracted theologian. ULEMA (anag. in (q)ua(d)) (2,8,a). An appealing reference to Bishop Berkeley and his empirical tree.
1: AIGRE-DOUX (anag. + O in aux) (1,5,d); 2: ALEYE (a l eye) (11,1,a); 4: ARMADILLO (anag, in anag.) (6,1,a); 5a: ASSOIL (ass oil) (1,7,d); 6: AURA ((L)aura) (10,9,a); 7: BLOTTO (l in botto(m)) (1,9,d); 9: CAMBRIC (MB in anag.) (1,6,a); 11: CULT (c + ult.) (9,2,d); 13: GEMARA (middle letters of judgement reparable) (4,1,a); 15: GOSPODAR (anag.) (3,4,a); 16: HOAS (O in has); 17: IMAM (I Mam) (1,11,d); 18: INGAN (hidden) (1,4,d); 19: INHEARSE (h in anag.) (1,2,d); 20: MELANOSIS (anag. + sis) (4,3,d); 21: MEMORITER (4,9,d); 22: OATGRASS (anag. + ass) (1,1d); 24: OUTLANDS (and in anag.); 25: PLONGE (long in PE) (7,6,d); 27: REDLINING (anag.) (1,10,d); 28: SERPULA (anag.) (9,1,a); 30: SOPRANINO (sop ran in O) (7,4,a); 31: SPULYE (puly in SE) (7,4,d); 32: STREWER (str. ewer) (12,1,a); 33: SUNDERER (red in anag.) (5,11,d); 34: THUG (anag. less O & lit.) (3,1,a); 35: TWO-START (anag. in tart) (5,12,d).